Rookie documentarians Roko and Adrian Belic stumbled onto one hell of a story for their marvelous debut feature, Genghis Blues. It goes like this: Blind, impoverished and isolated San Francisco blues musician Paul Pena was up late one night listening to his short-wave and encountered "khoomei," the peculiar throat-singing style native to the isolated Tuva region of the former Soviet Union. Pena tracks down a rare recording and spends 15 years teaching himself how to do it. Meanwhile, he uses a Braille device to translate Tuvan into Russian, then Russian into English, so he can learn the language. A renowned Tuvan throat-singer gives a concert in San Francisco. Pena meets him after the show and belts out a few bars of khoomei. Next thing you know, Pena's invited to Tuva to compete in the country's triennial throat-singing contest. Following the gravel-voiced hipster on his journey, you can't help being moved by how a poor, suffering house-bound nobody is loved and adored by foreigners. Genghis Blues is a film about exploration and friendship. It is the story of a man whose struggle in life is not defined by conformity and rules but by an unquenchable curiosity and love of music. (Excerpt by Rod Dreher, New York Post)
In October of 1996, a small film crew of Americans and Tibetans, including two actors, entered Chinese-occupied Tibet and secretly filmed for one week with a digital video camera. The rest of the film was shot on sets in Kathmandu and at remote locations 12,500 feet up in the Himalayan Mountains. Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Wagner's first dramatic feature is the Winner of the Best U.S. Feature and Best Director awards at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It tells the story of an aspiring Tibetan pop singer who wins favor with the Chinese government of occupied Tibet, but faces a crisis of conscience when her cousin, a Buddhist nun, is imprisoned and tortured for her religious beliefs. The singer and her brother join forces to secretly videotape the testimony of their cousin and sneak it out of Tibet. The film's focus on human rights abuses places it squarely in the context of America's current political relationship with the Chinese government. Although the Chinese government has denounced the film as "completely false," the political events and situations depicted in the film have been repeatedly documented by international human rights organizations. Even in Nepal, the exact nature of the film project had to be hidden from a Nepali government that often supresses pro-Tibetan political activities.
Fleshiness is just a start with this steamy Canadian production directed by Anne Wheeler. The film pushes limits on several fronts, including racy scenes with sex gadgets. But Better Than Chocolate,' sex comedy that it is, never loses sight of a solid story about two women coming to terms with their love for each other, and how that love should be expressed to the world. Maggie (Karyn Dwyer) is 19 and wants to be a writer. A bookstore clerk by day, and girls' club dancer by night, she's in an exploration-of- life mode. But Maggie hasn't quite cleared the runway with her family. They don't know that she's dropped out of university or that she's a lesbian. Writer Peggy Thomson's savvy script alludes to sensitive issues, and well-developed supporting characters help give the story a wider view of lesbian and gay life. Peter Outerbridge, for example, beautifully portrays a transsexual searching for his identity. Better Than Chocolate features a dynamite soundtrack by Graeme Coleman and songs by Ani DiFranco, Bif Naked, Ferron, Lorraine Bowen, West End Girls and Sarah McLachlan. (Excerpt by Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle)
In his latest award-winning film, the leading black British filmmaker, Isaac Julien takes on the Martinican psychiatrist and revolutionary, Frantz Fanon (1925-1961). One of the major intellectuals of the twentieth century, Fanon's controversial writings on the effects of colonialism and racism on blacks and whites alike continue to stimulate - or perhaps, to haunt - post-colonial cultural critics today. The film combines a poetic, visual intensity through its mix of archival and dramatic scenes, with an acute analysis by those close to Fanon, personally and intellectually. Isaac Julien brings us face to face with the ambivalence offered to their subjects by racist colonial and post-colonial worlds - violence, hostility and aggression on the one hand, and desire in its many guises on the other. Interviewees include Fanon's brother, Joby, and son, Olivier; as well as Stuart Hall, Maryse Condé, Raphael Confiant, and Homi Bhabha. Lucien Taylor conducted the interviews with Fanon's family and the Martinicans for the film, and also contributed Photography.
This movie's audacity holds you and builds to a startling daydream about the abyss separating sex from romance. Newcomer Caroline Ducey plays Marie who conjures up a surreal bordello in which women's lower bodies are callously plundered by strangers while their upper bodies adoringly embrace the men they love. Director Catherine Breillat doesn't have a sentimental bone in her body and she laces the action with snippets of X-rated footage. But her aim is not pornographic. She believes that if you're serious about examining sexual desire, you can't shy away from showing the flesh it inspires; nor, for that matter, can you ignore the babies that lovemaking creates. For all her desire to create a scandal, what's most disarming about Breillat is her matter-of-fact treatment of risky topics that other filmmakers are afraid even to mention. Watching Romance, many women will feel a shock of relieved recognition -a film that isn't terrified of female desire! -while most men will simply be shocked. After all, women aren't supposed to think, behave, or make movies like this. (Excerpt by J. Powers, Vogue)
Directed by Deepa Mehta, Earth is based on the semi-autobiographical novel Cracking Earth, by Bapsi Sidhwa. Earth is a film that explores the social conflicts in pre-partition Lahore, India in 1947. Lenny, the narrator, recalls her time as an eight-year-old Parsee girl (Maia Sethna) whose experiences evolved from living in a comfortable and harmonious household, to witnessing the bloodshed that resulted from the division of British India into independent India and Pakistan. The story of Earth involves Lenny, her nanny Shanta (Nandita Das), Dil Navaz or "Ice Candy Man" (Aamir Khan), Hasan the Masseur (Rahul Khanna), and others. This family of young friends who are all Muslims, Sikhs or Hindus regularly spend afternoons together in a park, cherishing each others' company and entertained by Shanta's beauty. The film gracefully establishes the beauty of peace and crudely depicts the tragic loss of it. Earth concludes that the most painful kind of betrayal is that which occurs within the family. (Excerpt by Yazmin Ghonaim, Cinephiles)
The smashing, dangerously charming Man of the Century follows Johnny Twennies, a fast-talking, stogie-chomping Depression-era newspaperman out of time, strangely (and brilliantly) oblivious to the modern world of sex, television, and other late-20th-century amenities swirling all around him. Played to the nines by the wondrously physical Gibson Frazier (who also co-wrote and co-produced with director Adam Abraham), Johnny whisks around the city, rescuing the occasional damsel in distress, cleft chin jutting out, wide eyes brimming with glass-half-full enthusiasms, caring not a flip for all our dour-faced, existential Nineties cynicism. Don't think such a gimmicky premise could possibly sustain a full-length narrative? Banana oil! Although reminiscent of the silver-screen homages of Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and even Mike Meyers as shagadelic out-of-timer Austin Powers, Abraham and Frazier's film still feels totally fresh and original. Man of the Century is an unforgettable movie experience, a remarkable debut just brimming with unforgettable characters and moments -- and that, my friends, is a real-life happy ending. (Excerpt by Sarah Hepola, Austin Chronicle)
Jeden Tag, jede Sekunde triffst Du eine Entscheidung, die Dein Leben
(English translation: Every second of every day you're faced with a decision that can change your life.) Run Lola Run is an extremely clever concoction that explodes in an escalating series of interlocking visual tricks from the wily mind of German writer/director Tom Tykwer. What is so unexpected is that this seemingly serious story races along with a merry heart. Three different journeys begin and end in the same place. Common premise: Lola's boyfriend, Manni (Herbert Knaup), will be killed by the Mob in twenty minutes if he doesn't pay his debt of 100,000 marks. Far across town Lola (Franka Potente) hurls the red telephone that brought the bad news into the air and races out to help Manni. With no help from Manni and no plan of her own, she knows only that she must get to him, that somehow the money will materialize. Mr. Tykwer fits every single act and gesture into a perfect blueprint that he manipulates at the desperate pace of a runner on a savior's mission. In Ms. Potente he has the perfect heroine. She is as obsessed with Lola's race as he is with the timing of the story he has written. This movie is his game, a sustained fireworks finale that never fizzles for a moment. (Excerpt by Joan Ellis, Nebbadoon.)
My Son the Fanatic, directed by Udayan Prasad and written by acclaimed screenwriter Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, Sam and Rosie Get Laid), is a film about a man living in a liberal society, who frees himself of repressive traditions and estranges himself from his intolerant family. The story is set in England where Parvez, a taxi driver, works tirelessly to bring better fortune to his wife Minno and his son Farid. As his work takes him to the streets, Parvez befriends Bettina the local prostitute, and his new customer Schitz (played by Stellan Skarsgard), a German business man who is out nights searching for unrestrained fun. In spite of its title, My Son the Fanatic does not focus on the relationship between father and son. Rather, it uses the close ties of these two characters to create in them an urgency which tempts them to conquer each other's ideologies. Parvez's own line of defense, "There are many ways of being a good man" becomes the film's central premise: it serves to justify Parvez's liberation, stripping him of culturally-based prejudice without denying his foreign ethnicity. In this manner, My Son the Fanatic stresses the difference between ethnic and ideological diversity. (Excerpt by Yazmin Ghonaim, Cinephiles)
The so-called Beat Generation seems like ancient history until you realize how many of its founding members are still around to talk about it. Or at least were around when Chuck Workman began collecting material for his enthusiastic paean to the heroes of that post-war social rebellion. The film traces the roots of the counterculture back to the 1940s, when Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs first hooked up. Johnny Depp, John Turturro and Dennis Hopper are among those who read from the essential Beat writings. Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer and Ken Kesey appear on camera to illuminate decades of bohemian activism. Jack Kerouac and his free-spirited on-the-road buddy Neal Cassady, the names most romantically associated with the Beat Generation, are long gone, appearing here via old TV clips, filmed readings, and home movies. But Workman got to poet Allen Ginsberg and novelist William Burroughs before they went to the Big Coffee House in the Sky, and they offer telling reminiscences from the early days of outlaw lit. Workman has created a nostalgic summary of a curious band who used their pens to thumb their noses -and had a hell of a time while they were at it.
The Limey, which is Steven Soderbergh's follow-up to Out of Sight, is a first-rate crime thriller and further proof that Soderbergh is one of our great contemporary film stylists. Taut, imaginative and complex, this is one of the best American films of the year and a wonderful antidote to the numbing sameness of movies like Random Hearts. Terence Stamp plays Wilson, a brutal British thug, just out of prison, who flies to Los Angeles to avenge his daughter's death. Nothing is quite what it seems to be, and the film is told from inside Stamp's head -- riding a wobbly line between past and present, delusion and Stamp's fevered thoughts. There's nothing orderly, nothing linear in the way Soderbergh constructs this tale. Information comes at us in shards and little blips, from odd directions. Soderbergh has had a spotty career since his 1989 breakthrough in sex, lies, and videotape. Kafka misfired, the wonderful King of the Hill was ignored and Out of Sight redeemed him. With the brilliant The Limey, it's time we the breadth and the vigor of his talent. (Excerpt by Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle)
Leos Carax's The Lovers on the Bridge arrives trailing clouds of faded glory. It was already one of the most infamous productions in French history when it premiered at Cannes in 1992, where some were stunned by its greatness and more were simply stunned. Its American release was delayed, according to Carax, because its distributor vindictively jacked up the film's asking price. Now it has arrived at last, a film both glorious and goofy, inspiring affection and exasperation in nearly equal measure. The story could have been told in a silent melodrama, or on the other half of a double bill with Jean Vigo's great L'Atalante (1934), which was Carax's inspiration. Carax's film begins on the ancient Pont-Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, where two vagrants discover each other. One is Michele (Juliette Binoche), an artist who is going blind. The other is Alex (Denis Lavant), a drunk and druggie who supports himself by fire-breathing. This three-hander could have made a nice little film in other hands, but Carax's production costs became legendary. His permission to shoot on the Pont-Neuf ran out while delays stalled his production... Thrown off the real bridge, Carax moved his entire production to the South of France and built a giant set of the Pont-Neuf, including the facades of three buildings of the famous Samaritaine department store. (Excerpt by Roger Ebert)
As the subtitles play out under a group of soccer players getting stoked for a game, you wonder what language it is they're speaking. Oh, yeah -- it's English. Ye canna ken what the beer-guzzling Scots are blethering in The Acid House, a helping of sex, drugs and violence taken from stories by Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting... The Acid House is a string of three bleak vignettes, the first and third of them paranormal allegories that play like Kafka strained through a pint of Edinburgh lager. The first has beer-league soccer player Boab (Stephen McCole) dumped by his team, his girlfriend and his parents all in the same day. Then a foul-mouthed God (Maurice Roeves) confronts him in the pub and turns him into a fly for being a lazy slob. The almighty's appearance as a pub layabout is the high point. The fly seeks his revenge and becomes a buzzing witness to humanity's perversity. The second vignette is a satire on a working-class marriage gone wrong. A grocery clerk (Kevin McKidd) is the butt of abuse from his wandering wife (Michelle Gomez) and the lecherous punk (Gary McCormack) upstairs. The third has an LSD-popping hooligan (Ewen Bremner) trading minds with a baby just born to a middle-class couple during a lightning storm. (Excerpt by Glen Schaefer, E Files)
The World's Best Commercials of the Century celebrates the art ... of advertising: a compilation of one hundred of the most hilarious, shocking, poignant, and timeless commercial masterpieces since the mainstream acceptance of television. The selections are certain to promote discussion and debate, but no doubts should arise as to their role in (advertising) history. A roller coaster ride of nostalgia, the World's Best Commercials of the Century celebrate the groundbreaking ad campaigns that played a role in the on-going "golden age" of advertising. Nineteen different countries are represented in this collection, but the British, with forty-six selections, certainly garner recognition as the planets most creative marketing minds. The ads are grouped by theme: Advertiser of the Century; Laughter Is The Best Medicine; Politically Incorrect; Public Service Announcements; and Timeless Classics. The ads have been chosen, on the basis of originality with the intent to entertain or enlighten, from tens of thousands of entries to the Cannes International Advertising Film Festival, dating from the early 60's until the late 90's. (FYI - The distributors of this popular ongoing series have written me to say they "will no longer be involved in the compilation and distribution of the World's Best Commercials." So, unless another distributor takes over, this could be the last one. - P.Kjolseth, IFS Director).
Perhaps the most remarkable documentary project ever undertaken, and certainly the longest, is Michael Apted's Up series, which he began shooting for the BBC in 1962. Seven Up was the first of the films, and is an examination of the lives of 14 British schoolchildren of various economic and racial backgrounds. It was followed seven years later by Seven Plus Seven, and has continued, every subsequent seven years, with another look at the same group of kids as they passed through school, marriages, childbirth, and grief. The films are all remarkable chronicles of change, both internal and external, and are, to some extent, about the lack of change as well. Apted has also provided a chronicle of the second half of the 20th century, particularly as applied to England. It's obvious that what he's after, as much as anything, is an analysis and indictment of the British class structure. This he does, with little effort and tremendous subtlety. It's particularly obvious in the sense that the class system, as it existed in the middle part of this century, is most effective in weeding out and preventing Britain's working class from ever allowing itself to rise in stature or achieve much in the way of comfort without working itself to the nub, and sometimes not even then. (Excerpt by Henry Cabot Beck, Film.com)
Here's a beautiful new 35mm print, made from the original camera negative, with new subtitles, of one of the greatest films of all time. Jean Renoir's exciting and moving antiwar drama, set during WW1, chronicles how three French officers - an aristocrat (Pierre Fresnay), a Jew (Marcel Dalio), and a worker (Jean Gabin) - engineer an escape from a German POW camp run by a forbidding, monocled Prussian commandant (Erich von Stroheim). Renoir's wise and compassionate film wryly demonstrates that loyalties are determined as much by economic class as by nationality. Goebbels branded the movie "Cinema enemy No. 1" and almost destroyed the film during the Nazi regime. As Roger Ebert notes, "Here is a crisp print that underlines Renoir's visual style, his mastery of a subtly moving camera that allowed him to film extended passages without cutting. In the paintings of his father, Auguste Renoir, our eyes are led gently through the composition. In the films of the son, there is a quiet voluptuousness; the camera doesn't point or intrude, but glides." Pauline Kael writes of Grand Illusion as "One of the true masterpieces of the screen."
The Legend of 1900 (originally titled The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean) stands as Tornatore's best and most accessible film since his Oscar-winning "Cinema Paradiso," a magical, allegorical tale of a world-class pianist whose entire life is spent on board a trans-Atlantic cruise liner, never once setting foot on dry land. Named for the year of his birth by the ship's furnace worker (Bill Nunn) who found him as a baby, Nineteen Hundred (Tim Roth) lives a life of both superhuman joys and desperate pains... No less than real-life Jazz great Jelly Roll Morton (Clarence Williams III) even shows up to test the man's legendary abilities in a "piano duel" that is one of the film's more spectacular moments....Thanks to eye-popping production values and a bracingly romantic score by Ennio Morricone, it's hard to protest even flaws that seem to have remained from the original version. (The film was cut by 35 minutes due to contractual obligations to the distributor.) (Excerpt by Wade Major, Box Office Magazine)
French master Alain Resnais has been making movies that are at once mischievous and magnificent for nearly half a century (a list that includes Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad, Muriel and My American Uncle), and what is perhaps most extraordinary about this extraordinary filmmaker is that at the age of 76 anyone would be capable of making a movie as light yet complicated, as sly yet spry, as the thoroughly enjoyable divertissement Same Old Song. Fans of The Singing Detective will recognize this premise immediately, and Resnais short-circuits that potential criticism by dedicating the film to the late Dennis Potter. The story involves a group of people in and around Paris and their tangled commitments, a narrative that is punctuated frequently by characters breaking into straight-faced snippets of classic French pop songs (Jane Birkin even pops up in one scene and does, you guessed it, a Jane Birkin song). While potential American distributors are bound to be nervous due to the limited appeal of the music clips, they're just the frosting on this delicious confection of miscommunication and yearning, as the lyrics of each song manage to be far more eloquent than the often banal but never boring characters. Delightfully unique, Same Old Song is a joy from beginning to end. (Excerpt by Eddie Cockrell, Nitrate Online)